Situation: A company has a key relationship with a major corporation. They recently completed work in Phase I of a multi-phase project which was fraught with difficulties. Now they are evaluating whether and how to proceed with Phase II. Do you continue a difficult partnership?
Advice from the CEOs:
What made Phase I difficult?
Initial work was done to original specs and on time. The partner then asked for additional work and a change to the original specs, but would not agree to pay for these changes. As a result, the company lost money on Phase I.
What alternatives exist?
In brief, you must fundamentally change the terms of engagement. You can convert everything to time and materials, so that when the partner makes changes or asks you to make changes, they pay as they go.
A second alternative is to reconstruct the project as a waterfall project with a fixed price up front. You agree to X iterations, at Y cost per iteration. Each iteration has a deadline and the work completed as of each deadline constitutes the final work on that iteration. You charge for additional iterations if the partner wants additional work after the final negotiated iteration.
A third alternative is to set a price that is 2x your estimated price, recognizing that there may be a need to change specifications during development. You will provide documentation of your time and effort. If at the agreed end of the project you have not used all of the funds budgeted, you refund the difference to the partner.
Adjust how you communicate with the partner as you renegotiate. Do not assume that silence constitutes agreement. Provide written documentation of your understanding at the close of each negotiation and invite them to correct any misunderstandings. Require that both sides sign this documentation to confirm agreement. Do not proceed until there is clear mutual understanding on all key points.
Purchase and use software to track any changes to requirements during the project. This will enable you to document both the changes requested and their waterfall effect on other portions of the project.
Situation: The CEO came into a company as a engineering consultant. Three years later the Board asked him to take on the CEO role. This created a credibility issue with staff because the CEO is a duck out of water, though a duck with better business sense than most others within the company. How do you manage a company outside of your technical expertise?
Advice from the CEOs:
The staff credibility issue may just be one of self-confidence. You have already demonstrated competence in revising company processes and improving profitability. In fact, your non-industry perspective may have contributed to your success to date.
Near term, in what areas should you focus?
Focus on building bridges which will give you more leverage to address key barriers, particularly within the more entrenched groups in the company.
Look at how the company communicates and exchanges information with clients. One thing that customers want is more self-service options and access to data. You have the opportunity to develop Web 2.0 capabilities which will to set the company apart in what is historically a very conservative and paper-oriented client culture.
These actions will help you to increase your credibility as an effective leader and CEO.
Longer term, what should be the plan?
Keep the ship running smoothly. This by itself will help to build appreciation for your talents.
Use any free time to create business plans of your vision for the future. Share these interactively with key staff members and incorporate their input into the plan. Involve them in disseminating the plan within the company.
As you develop your vision and plan, look for opportunities to attribute success to others. This will be a breath of fresh air to staff and will strengthen the bridges that you have worked to build. They will start to see you as a key ally who shares credit instead of hoarding it.
Situation: A company has developed a disrupting technology that will allow OEMs to produce high-end circuits at a fraction of their current cost. A non-exclusive OEM partner is using this technology but doesn’t have a channel to high-end users, and the company is too small to reach these customers themselves. How do you reach high-end users?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your dilemma is having a disrupting technology in a market with a strong division between OEMs servicing the low/medium-end market and those servicing the high-end market.
Your technology collapses the division between the low/medium and the high-end markets and OEMs and proposes a full-scale technical shift.
This shift disrupts the current business models of either group of OEMs, as well as their technology development plans. This is why you are finding resistance.
Therefore, you need a channel partner that is either:
A low/medium-end OEM who is just as much a disrupter as you are – highly promising but not yet well-established – and who is capability of developing a high-end sales and marketing effort; or
A high-end OEM that knows the market but is collapsing under their current strategy and needs an entirely different solution to revive their prospects.
Your near-term task is to simply gain market capability – both manufacturing and marketing/sales – and to use this capability to gain early market acceptance.
Your investors want to see early “Blue Chip” partners, but given market realities, this may not be the wisest strategy.
If, over the next 12 months, you can begin to impact the market shares of the high-end OEMs, this is the surest way to gain their attention. Once you start to gain share, a likely outcome is that one of the high-end OEMs will buy you to lock up your IP.
Another company recently used a similar strategy entering a new market by collaborating with a high-visibility partner.
In one year, they took 30% market share from the market leader.
The next year the market leader bought them because “it was less expensive to buy you than to spend the marketing dollars that we would have had to spend to compete against you.”
Situation: A company missed production milestones and had to reduce top and line staff by 20% to keep salaries in line with expected revenue. An executive who was very angry about being let go has asked the CEO to meet him for lunch. How do you manage communications with employees post-riff?
Advice from the CEOs:
If you haven’t already, call a company meeting to explain the situation, as well as the rationale for the riff. The company has to manage itself financially in line with current and expected future revenue to assure that it can take care of employees. Explain the connection between production milestones, revenue, and the company’s ability to afford staff. Employees generally understand these connections and will accept this well.
When you have lunch with the executive, first listen to what he has to say.
Anger expressed in an exit interview is part of a natural emotional response to difficult news or change. Listen for signs of ongoing anger or progress toward acceptance of the situation.
If the individual threatens the company or tries to bargain the severance package, don’t negotiate.
However, if the individual is reasonable and asks for assistance in finding a next position – references, introductions, etc. – then offer to assist as you can.
Should the CEO make an attempt to follow-up with others who were riffed?
No. If they contact you, then respond in a similar fashion as you are to the VP, but otherwise don’t try to contact them.
In the Silicon Valley economy, people are familiar that employment situations change and know that as this happens they can be affected.